Monday, 23 December 2019

Varanasi, India

We flew to Varanasi from Delhi arriving early evening, dropped our bags off and immediately hailed a tuk tuk for a white knuckle ride to the River Ganges where there was a fire ceremony going on.   This happens every evening and involves music, much painting of faces and bowls of fire which are passed through the crowd by a guru, if your face  is painted you are blessed and touching the fire is a cleansing ritual that everyone participates in.  There was a lot to see here and we arrived very late so came back the following night to see it all again!

It is very colourful to watch and very easy to get swept into the atmosphere as you are drawn into a huge crowd, the surge is towards the Ganges where there are many platforms, each with it's own guru, flowers, people putting little floating tea lights into the river.  People shave, bring a change of clothes and then immerse themselves in the water for purification.  It is believed that bathing in The Ganges ends the cycle of life/death and cleanses the soul of sin. 

At night there is a central section where people beg, it becomes pedestrianised for about a mile  and is crammed with cows, people heading to the fire festival and yet more stalls selling trinkets and food

The bracelets are very pretty,but most of them are made of 
very thin glass so not a safe souvenir choice for children.

The funeral fires:  Daily Mail link with explanation and pictures

We spent a morning at the edge of the Ganges watching cremations take place.  We didn't have a guide but had read up beforehand and found the link above helpful.

It takes about 300 kilo of mango wood to burn a body, which takes about 3 hours.  We saw the bodies lined up on the ground in shrouds, decorated with orange cloth and marigold flowers.  Cows wander along and eat the marigolds, dogs also wander amongst the smouldering embers as a cremation comes to an end, they will scavenge in the ashes and are kept back by relatives tending the body.  The ashes are scooped up and thrown into the Ganges River at the end of the process and the funeral pyre is quickly taken over by the next cremation, it's a continuing cycle throughout the day.  Mourners mostly don't object to the presence of tourists, provided they do not to take pictures of the bodies and kept a respectful distance. 

We found the best observation point was directly above the pyres where the mango wood was stacked. Tourists take boats out and observe from the water, but you can see and experience everything better where we stood.

The procedure is respectful but we did not see any relatives crying or sad, completing the life cycle of a relative is seen as a positive event, their cremation releasing the soul to nirvana.

Vendors along The Ganges at Varanasi... snake charmer to the left...

Early morning at Varanasi Ghats:  there is a market with school children walking in groups and vendors selling food and trinkets.  .

Taking the tuk tuk from the hotel was hair raising, we went several times and the journey varied between about 25 minutes and 45 minutes depending on what route the driver took and traffic, which was solid.  Traffic appears chaotic with vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road, frequent prangs and cows sleeping or wandering on the roads.   You have to walk about a mile from the beginning of the market area as it is pedestrianised beyond this.  At night it is very crowded and there is a good atmosphere.  I think Varanasi is well worth putting into your itinerary of India and was probably my favourite of the tour.

tip:  agree the price for your journey by tuk tuk before you get in, have the right amount of money ready at end of journey and if your driver is good, get his name and have him meet you the next day if you want to go out again - drivers are keen for business and will argue over you which can waste a lot of time! 

 next blog post will be Agra and Jaipur.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Delhi, India

 Hi and welcome if you have followed over here from my Wood Fairy blog where I posted about Kerela, I will duplicate that post over here too and try and keep all my travels in one safe place on this blog.   We have so many photographs, probably thousands, and some videos but it's taking ages to sort them, download and make into blogs or videos so I will do short posts as and when in no particular order :)  I might have to do more than one post on Delhi as we went there twice and did so much...

On arrival in India, our first night was spent at Surayaa Hotel, we got there very late, ate a fabulous curry and took a quick walk round the vicinity to check out surroundings.  Lots of stray dogs, market stalls of flowers, traffic, dust, fumes and noise.

New Delhi, Surayaa Hotel area

fresh fruit juice outside the hotel
Day 1 we had curry breakfast at hotel, Indian masala tea (cardomon, cinnamon, milk) and ventured out.  A 15 minute walk across ridiculously heavy traffic, negotiating tuktuk, rickshaw, cars and lorries, not to mention mopeds driving on the wrong side of the road and cows sleeping on roadsides, walking across traffic or standing and staring into space.  We made it in one piece to the Metro, bought tokens in the automated machine, (having Googled the metro route we carried a list of stops/3 changes for route to Connaught circle and on to Chandni Chowk in the heart of Old Delhi).  Connaught was mainly expensive designer shops ( not our thing) so after walking round the entire perimeter to get our bearings, we moved on to Chandni Chowk market area which was much more interesting.  I really recommend using the Metro in Delhi as it is very clean and efficient, they have women only carriages and the ticket machines are easy to operate.  You can see the route displays inside the train in English and  many people are friendly and helpful if you are lost.

We went to Chandni Chowk to see the huge market constructed of a labarynth of alleys and lanes running off the main route full of sari silks, Indian clothes, shoes, trinkets and onwards to the fruit and street food area.  We saw monkies running along the tops of traders shacks and swinging from electric cables.  Cows were everywhere and many dogs.  It is sad to see some people and animals that are homeless, hungry and sometimes injured, but this is very much a part of India, not something a lone tourist can change and something we had to learn to accept.

There is huge poverty here and we were constantly approached by a range of begging children, disfigured adults and touts wanting to show us places to shop, all just trying to earn a crust any way they can.  We saw a long queue of poor migrant workers and homeless getting curry and rice from religious, charitable organisations.  There is food available daily from these food stations, not everyone is homeless though, some people are visiting family in the nearby hospitals and are displaced/sleeping outside.  No doubt these food stations are a welcome help.

We found the food market full of stalls laden with fruit and vendors cooking up various deep fried spicy delights, rolling bread dough and stirring pots of curry.  We were warned by some locals though that the oil used to cook streetfood in the markets is often recycled from restuarants so not particularly clean or healthy.

Getting the metro was fairly easy with the help of locals, fun,  and the best way to get around, also a welcome bit of air con away from the smog.  The week we visited New Delhi had been on the news due to the high smog caused not only by traffic fumes but the burning of crops nearby which the Government had banned but were unable to enforce.

Metro smog advisory

Schools were closed due to the smog and we took the precaution of wearing dust masks when we were in traffic.  There was a smog indicator at one of the metro stations which was displaying 463 on the 500 scale of severity.  We found that riding the tuk tuks also exposed us to traffic fumes and poor visibility.  That said, it's an experience not to be missed and the smog was unavoidable.

Day 2  we took a guide for the day and an air con car and saw Humayuns tomb
On which the taj mahal was modelled 85 years later.  This tomb is smaller in scale but displays all the familiar features and design of the Taj Mahal.  Built in 1562 by the moghuls it was influenced by Persian architecture.

Lunch was bananas

Qutab Minar.  A Unesco world heritage site, this is the oldest brick minaret in the world built on the remains of an earlier hindu temple, any human images were defaced by the muslims when they took the temple over and built their minaret,  but other detail remains.  The minaret contains in its structure an iron which does not rust.  Our guide, Sunny, shared my interest in Eric von Daniken (Charriot of the gods) and we discussed theories on the possibilities of alien influence, he found a video on his phone of what appears to be a human form flying around the minaret which was seen only a few years ago.  My imagination was captured by the strange iron that does not rust and, for me, made the excursion take on a new dimension - were we looking at alien influence during those times?

structure contains iron that does not rust

We took a rickshaw ride around the moslem quarter for a bit of fun and headed back to our hotel for a sauna, tea and cake and a freshen up.

Our evenings were spent in the Upgrade bar, a short potholed walk from the hotel where we negotiated our beers down to half the hotel prices and so came back again.   We found Mcdonalds and Domino Pizza when in need of some carbohydrates!  but mostly relied on a large hotel breakfast and evening meal as we didn't have time to search out restuarants .... Delhi was exciting and hectic, riding on tuk tuk's was essential.  The smog was awful but we had a great time!

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Spain September 2019

Just back from a budget 4 night break to Spain.  We stayed at Melia Benidorm (collecting loyalty points) and flew with Easyjet.  This is the view from our floor into reception - all the 'gardens' are of rooted, living plants on each floor and are maintained by a daily gardener.  Our hotel is on the 'New Town' side which is full of lively bars and sky scraper hotels and where the original 'Benidorm' TV series was filmed (we visited Neptunes bar and The Palladium on our first night).

Our sons joined us and enjoyed the night life in the 'New Town' area, but we all preferred to spend time in the much prettier 'Old Town' which is full of little tapas bars and narrow, winding streets with rickety houses.

The weather wasn't great, there was torrential rain/lightening on arrival at Alicante and that evening we learned that Spain was experiencing the worst weather since 1978 with floods in Alicante and nearby areas although Benidorm itself was fine.  The Government issued a red alert so all the hotels that had trees were forced to close the pool and grounds due to potential storm damage, ours was therefore restricted for the best part of our stay and also the beach was red flagged so no swimming - the sea was very rough.  On our last day, Sunday, the red alert ended and we had sunshine all day and were allowed out to the poolside.

pool area closed, balcony was nearest we could get!

Below was a very pretty house with garden next to the famous Carrero del Gats
(alley of cats) I have tried but unable to find why it is called this! we only saw 2 cats here and they weren't telling.  It's right next to a lovely Dutch bar and seems to be famous not for cats but for giving a view of both beaches (Lavente and Poniente) if you stand in the middle of the alley and look left then right.

If you can't see the video below of the firework fiesta, I have uploaded one on Youtube here
(you will need to copy and paste the link below)

We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time to see a local fiesta of fireworks, it hadn't been advertised (the main Fiesta in Benidorm is not until November).  This started at 2am when tourists were scarse and appeared to be for locals only, police were present and also  Red Cross but it was peaceful, although you wouldn't get this close to fire in the UK.  People strap homemade metal contraptions to their backs and tape the fireworks on so that when lit they are like human catherine wheels with sparks flying out everywhere, there is much running and jumping in and out of fire along the route.  The procession went on for over an hour with pipers playing all the way round winding streets and ending in a spectacular display at the Centre of Old Town.  We joined the procession through the town, it was very smoky which is why some people had covered their heads/faces - I went to bed with my hair smelling of smoke and my arms smarting from stray sparks!

The reason for the fiesta was hard to fathom, the locals said it was 'Drunk Fire'  rooted in history of  the battles between the Moors and Christians, which took place over control of Spain in the 13th to 15th century.

We came to Benidorm in 1982 for our honeymoon, my inlaws came too (and also my 'boss' from work and his family!).  My in-laws were regular visitors over the years and liked this bar (Tony Moran's Bar Rumbo) in the Old Town - so of course we had to put in a visit once again - and here we are - 37 years later with our boys visiting for the first time to carry on the tradition, we got a very warm welcome as the original owners son still runs the bar!

These kind of bars are plentiful in the narrow streets of this area and known as Tapas bars as they offer traditional Spanish snacks like spicy meatballs, olives and crusty bread. 

This spectacular door is to the church of San Jaime and Santa Ana and is the oldest church in Benidorm, 18th Century.  Inside lies theVirgen del Sufragio, so called due to her intact discovery among the ashes of a ship in the year 1740.  In November the church door is surrounded by a halo of flowers.

So, a lack of pics of the beach due to the unexpected weather! but we still had a good time.  Here's the view from the Old Town looking across the beach to the New Town.

p.s.  I decided to keep my other blog Betty-thewoodfairy going after all for all things mostly un travel related :)